Plaza de la Constitucion de Oaxaca (Zocalo)

between Hidalgo, Trujano, Flores Magon and Bustamente Sts.
Oaxaca City, Mexico

Contributed by Project for Public Spaces

The zocalo has been the heart of Oaxaca for nearly 500 years, since it was laid out by Juan Pelaez de Berrio and Alonso Garcia Bra

Click on any image for slide show

For more images of Plaza de la Constitucion de Oaxaca (Zocalo) or other places, try searching our Image Collection

Why It Works

Strolling down the pedestrian walkway, Macedonio Alcala, one arrives at the daily fiesta that is the zocalo. Children run after their globos (large tubular balloons), plastic helicopters and Pokemon balloons which are all sold by vendors in the open space next to the Cathedral. There are activities for all ages in the plaza, a characteristic that demonstrates why this space has always been a primary social place. Sitting on benches, parents enjoy the soothing sounds from the fountains as they watch their children play. Vendors circumambulating the zocalo sell corn, chapulines and fruit to customers at the shoe shine stands scattered throughout the plaza. Friends gather on the benches to discuss events they read about in newspapers bought by the nearby newsstands. Every night, musicians serenade customers eating at the cafes and on Thursday nights the Banda Musica del Estado performs classical music and old popular Mexican songs.

Low shrubbery allows visitors to see all sides of the zocalo and to experience the ambiance of this lively central square. At the center of the plaza is a kiosk surrounded by four small fountains and towering trees, which provide shade from the intense summer sun. Because the zocalo is bordered on two sides by a sizeable church and the state/municipal government building (la Catedral and el Palacio de Gobierno), it serves as a space for social and religious gatherings and for political protest. Its other sides are lined with numerous open-air restaurants, hotels and shops. As such, it is the center of civic life and draws both Oaxacans and tourists alike. Although cars are not allowed to drive through the zocalo itself, the plaza is easily accessible by bus, car or on foot.

History & Background

In a way, Oaxaca's zocalo is very similar to others in cities designed by colonial Spanish architects. Zocalos served as the symbolic manifestation of Spanish power, as each plaza had buildings representing the two main colonizing institutions: the church and the crown. The central square was the most crucial part of the layout of a new city, as it consolidated the rule of the conquistador. The space for Oaxaca's own zocalo was originally delineated by Juan Pelaez de Berrio in 1529. Alonso Garcia Bravo, who also designed Veracruz and Mexico City, then used the plaza as a reference point when he planned the rest of the city.

The zocalo's historical significance as a social gathering place has fortified its critical role in the fabric of Oaxacan urban life. It is not unusual for families to gather to celebrate the anniversary of parents who originally met in the zocalo. Moreover, the maintenance of the square is a matter of civic pride because the space is the location of the governor's offices and most national festivities such as the Grito de la Independencia (September 15). Hence, the state government funds many events such as the weekly performances of the state music band.

contributed by Elaine Shen

Contact Info:

Office of the Secretary of State Tourism

Related Links:

Back to top of page